given on Sunday, May 17, 2015
We are the church,
You are the church,
We are the church together. . . .
The refrain from “We Are the Church” is reminder of just who the church is. Not just the Norris or Community United Methodist Church, but THE CHURCH.
The Church began as Jesus’ twelve disciples accepted their new role as apostolic leaders of the earliest church. The events that began with the crucifixion and continued through Pentecost established The Church.
Today, The Church is under a great deal of pressure, but I cannot imagine that the pressure today is any greater than the pressure those very first Christians experienced. We, here in the freedom of the United States, do not worry about persecution. We do not have to defend our Christian faith before a crowd at the Coliseum as the lions are released.
And, neither do we have to defend our beliefs within our denomination as the Catholics did during the Inquisitions. Nor do we have to explain why we joined one denomination over another during the trials of reformation.
Still, the question remains: Whose church is this?
The first Christians were Jewish faithful who believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah sent to save their people. The first Christians were the Gentiles who were drawn to Jesus’ teachings and discovered they too were welcomed. The first Christians were sometimes pagans who discovered that there is one God and only one law—to love one another.
Today The Church could list the same membership. Yet, with the long-established churches following decades, even centuries, of tradition, the membership of The Church is unstable. Long-time members who have preserved the individual churches no longer are able to do so.
The generations of the faithful are not attending the church of their youth. The un-churched, or maybe a better term, the un-served see no value in checking out neighborhood churches. The secular world of business and entertainment is winning time slots that used to be preserved for the churches.
Who, then is left in the churches? For whom do the churches open doors? Does the church welcome anybody and everybody through the doors at any time? Or is the church just a building?
The very first Psalm is the opening scripture today for a couple of reasons. First, it is from the Old Testament hymnal, and even before Jesus was born, lived and died, this Psalm was used by the Israelites as part of their worship:
Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.
The first words immediately provide the reason for living a God-centered life—JOY.
Joy is also defined in the gospel of John 17: 13:
13 “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy.
There is that word again—joy! Jesus was praying to God in what is sometimes referred to as his “Farewell Discourse.” This was the last opportunity to serve as that direct link of God and humanity. Joy is God’s gift to those who maintain “an intimate contact with Christ” (as referenced in the study notes of the Life Application Study Bible).
Again the question: Whose church is this? Have the generations of Christians kept the church open and working to make disciples of Christ or have the churches been open just for those who already profess their faith?
The Church from its inception had a charge to keep. In the scripture from the gospel John, the prayer continues:
18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.
The prayer, at this point, is for the disciples. With these two verses, Jesus appointed them to be apostles. They were the first organized officials of The Church and it was up to them to continue spreading the word of God’s glory, defined in verse 9-11a:
9 “My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. 10 All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. 11 Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world,
Reading the scripture, the keys to one’s faith can be found. The words of Jesus’ prayer provide insight into terms that are used. God’s glory in verse 10 is tied to joy, even more it is directly linked to belief in Jesus.
This “Farewell Discourse” also connects back to the Psalm 1, especially in the second stanza:
2 But they delight in the law of the Lord,
meditating on it day and night.
3 They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
and they prosper in all they do.
The references to one’s delight links to God’s glory. Jesus sent the disciples into the world to share the message. He gave them the authority to grow The Church, to share the message, to help others find God’s glory.
Does The Church continue to do this? Is The Church really God’s church? Can the churches here and around the globe honestly answer that they are God’s church, doing God’s work, sharing the joy, making new disciples, healing the sick, helping the poor. . . and the list continues.
Today, churches are facing tough decisions. They need to be accountable to the very commandment that God delivered to us through the life, the death, and the resurrection of his son. Today’s churches must find the best way to spread the word in their own ways remembering God’s glory is found through reading the scripture, worshiping together, and serving one another in all the ways The Church can figure out to do.
Whose church is this? The answer should roll off the tongues—God’s church. The church where we stop to worship is not just a sanctuary, it is the people who come to worship and step out to serve. If the church is just a location that does not serve, then it is time for serious work to begin.
During the summer, the task before us is to meet and to define the role of this church in God’s work. What is the best way to share God’s word? What resources are needed? What can change? What can each of us honestly offer to see God’s word is spread?
I face a change and must answer to that, too. For seven years, I have served as a pastor, but I sometimes feel I am only a bandage. I shared my ministry between two passions—education of at-risk students and God’s message. My May transition is to graduate just like all the students who move from one class to the next. Let’s all graduate to the next class of disciples in God’s church.
When you are asked, Whose church is this?, you should be able to answer with confidence that it is God’s church. This church must be God’s church in which we worship and serve. If we cannot say that, then we must look for the best way to fix the problem. We want to say that this church is God’s church which is filled with his glory that pours out to others whoever they may be.
Nerves may cause us to shake
As we graduate from one level to the next.
We fear the changes that are ahead
And feel inadequate to do what you call us to do.
We struggle to know the best way
To serve as your church.
We hate to change what we know
Unsure of the outcome it may bring.
Still, we ask for your guidance
As we prepare to move forward.
We ask for the freedom to serve
In new and different ways
We ask for you to fill us with the Holy Spirit
As we reach out to others with your story.
We anticipate the future of this church
As the faithful find ways to serve you better.
May our joy as members of your church
Radiate from this church to reach others.
May we answer the question: Whose church is this?
With confidence that it is your church.–Amen